[Filippino Lippi, Madonna with Child, St Anthony of Padua and a Friar, before 1480 — Tempera on wood, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. Some readers may be wondering why I have entitled this homily as for “the Solemnity of St. Anthony of Padua,” since in every Ordo and Catholic calendar it is listed as a memorial. One of the benefits of being at a merged parish with a hyphenated name is that we get to celebrate two solemnities for our co-patrons.]
Today our parish celebrates the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, one of the co-patron’s of our parish. Maybe one of the first questions that comes to mind is “Who was St. Anthony of Padua?” One of the first surprises we learn about St. Anthony is that he was not Italian and not from Padua. St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195. He was ordained a priest for the Augustinian Order at age 24, but after seeing the bodies of the newly formed Franciscans who had been martyred in Africa preaching to the Moors, he joined the Franciscans with the hope of becoming a martyr. His missionary days in Morocco did not last very long, because of his poor health. His superiors called him to Italy, where he became the first Franciscan to teach theology to his brothers in the Order. St. Anthony was known to be an extraordinary preacher. There is one story of his attending an ordination at a monastery when it was discovered that they had forgotten to pick someone to give the homily. They asked St. Anthony, without any preparation, to give the homily, and all in attendance were amazed at the words, filled with the Holy Spirit, which came from his mouth. His preaching demonstrated his great learning, but also his great gentleness. Sadly, his health was never very good, and at the age of 36 he died in Padua, Italy in 1231.
Who is St. Anthony of Padua? What I have already said tells us something about the facts of his life, and while this is a good starting point, just knowing facts about a person does not allow us to really know the person. To know the person we must enter into a relationship with the person, and as we enter into a relationship with St. Anthony we see that the primary relationship in his life was his relationship with God. This relationship with the Infinite Mystery defined his “I”, the very core of his being.
St. Anthony, a profound Scripture scholar, allowed his entire being to be formed by the Word of God. In truth he could say, with the Prophet Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me….” While he had his own plans and ambitions for his life, he always submitted them to the will of God. He wanted to preach to the Moors in Africa and to die a martyr. God called him to preach to Christians, mostly in France and Italy, including his only confreres in the Franciscans, and to die not a martyr’s death, but one filled with illness. Yet in it all, St. Anthony took great joy in giving glory to God.
In one of his homilies, St. Anthony proclaimed, “The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience, and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.”
As Jesus sent out the seventy-two other disciples in today’s Gospel, so He continues to send out His disciples to proclaim to entire world, “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” As the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, where heard in many languages, so may we witness to Christ Jesus in the different languages that St. Anthony spoke of; the languages of humility, poverty, patience, charity and obedience by practicing these virtues in our lives.
We pray through the intercession of St. Anthony that all the members of our parish will be strengthened in their faith and filled with zeal for living our Christian vocations.